A few days into Dawne Swank’s new job as assistant principal at T.K. Stone Middle School, she learned her boss was leaving for another job.

“I didn’t think I’d run Jennifer Burnham off in a few days,” she said.

Burnham was named director of federal programs and leadership development for Hardin County Schools in early July, and Swank was then thrust into a pseudo-principal position, as she called it.

“I had a crash course in Principal 101,” she said.

That brief experience should come in handy after Swank was announced Thursday night as the new principal of the middle school. Before T.K. Stone, Swank served as assistant principal of Elizabethtown High School.

Both Superintendent Jon Ballard and Swank said the last month has been baptism by fire, but Swank is looking forward to the opportunity.

The school’s open house is today and the first day of school is Wednesday. Central office staff will be available to support Swank as needed, Ballard said.

While they didn’t get much time to work together, Swank said Burnham helped to pave the way for her.

Swank has spent most of her career in education at the high-school level. She was an EHS assistant principal for four years and taught science before that.

In Swank’s tenure at the high school, she said she was effective with culture and climate. At T.K Stone, she plans on continuing that.

“Ultimately, I want students to be proud of their school and feel like rock stars,” she said.

She has plans to survey students to see what they want, and she hopes to work with the arts department to decorate bathrooms.

She said staff is on board and all on the boat together, rowing in same direction.

“I feel like we are at the beginning of a bunch of great things coming down the pike,” she said, which she attributes to the hard work of staff.

She said she decided to move to the middle-school level because she knew what it took for middle-school students to be prepared. District and school officials say her high school experience will be an asset for the school.

“She’ll be beneficial with making the transition from eighth to ninth grade even better,” Elizabethtown High School Principal Steve Smallwood said. “That’s going to pay off for the eighth-graders.”

Swank said she applied for the principal job because the worst the council could say was no and she’d still be in the assistant principal position.

“It was a win-win situation for me,” she said.

She said she was grateful to the site-based, decision-making council for choosing her.

Smallwood said Swank always has worked to make situations better and thought out of the box on ways to move students and staff forward.

“We’re going to miss her in that role,” he said. “She’s always been a big part in everything we’ve done here.”

Karl Olive, a former principal of West Point Independent School, was hired in July to fill Swank’s position at EHS.

“I know the students and staff will learn a lot, be challenged and see a lot of growth (from Swank),” Smallwood said.

Katherine Knott can be reached at (270) 505-1747 or kknott@thenewsenterprise.com.

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